Week One NFL Trends
by Mike Hayes - 09/06/2006
The NFL season is upon us and if week one point spreads are any indication, it could be a wild ride with few teams capable of total domination and more than a few capable of emerging as the surprise team of the league.
There are about a dozen week one games with point spreads of four points or less, and just two in which a team is favored by better than a touchdown. This is up from opening week last season when seven games went off with lines of four points or fewer, and four games featured favorites of at least a touchdown.
"As there are many average teams and only a few superior teams, the league's overall parity has had a definite impact on the number of close spreads this week," said Bodog bookmakers.
You would think that the uncertainty that comes with early season NFL action and the resulting tight lines would result in advantage to either the books or the bettor, at least until clear trends begin to emerge. Not so, said Bodog.
"With somewhat stable rosters and the fact that teams play each other with more regularity, NFL lines are the strongest of all the sports. With NFL lines being rock-solid throughout the year, even in week one, percentages are pretty much flat across the board for the entire season."
Recent history suggests this is correct, as there are no week one trends that would indicate anyone holds an advantage.
Favorites went 10-6 in opening week match-ups last season, and were 3-1 in games with a spread of a touchdown or more. Home dogs were 2-2, with the Falcons winning outright against the Eagles and the Dolphins doing the same against Denver.
Opening week of the 2004 campaign featured 11 games in which the line was set at four points or less and just two in which one of the teams was favored by at least a touchdown. Overall, favorites went 7-7-2, including a 31-17 win by the 8.5-point favored Eagles over the Giants. The Rams, an 11-point favorite at home against the Cardinals, failed to cover by winning 17-10.
First week action in 2003 saw favorites post a mark of 8-6-1 with the Giants versus Rams listed as a pick'em. In addition to this game, won by the Giants 23-13, nine others featured a line of four points or less. Favorites went 5-4 in these games, with the underdog winning outright in three of the covers. The Dolphins, who as a 13-point favorites over the Texans, had the distinction of being the heaviest opening week favorite since 2003, and not only failed to cover but lost 21-20 at home.
Just two teams, the Jaguars and Lions, have rewarded backers with cashed tickets during opening week in each of the past three seasons.
The Lions are 3-0 in season openers since 2003, with one win occurring as a 3-point dog, in Chicago in 2004. The Lions are a six-point home dog to the NFC Champion Seahawks this week. The Jags are 2-1 in recent openers, but lost a 24-23 game to the Panthers to start the 2003 campaign.
As the season progresses, the books, like those betting the games, will of course react as trends begin to emerge. Therefore, the key is to spot those trends as soon as possible.
"When surprises happen, books need to adjust for them as they occur," said Bodog bookies. "Our goal is to keep a balanced line while action comes in and adjust accordingly."
Included among this year's first-week lines is a spread involving the Steelers and the aforementioned Dolphins, whose backers dropped the line from an opening of as much as five points after it was learned that Charlie Batch would be calling signals instead of Ben Roethlisberger, who is out after an emergency appendectomy.
As a nine-point choice over the Bills in New England, the Patriots have the distinction of being the biggest favorite on this year's opening week board. The Cardinals, a 7.5 point chalk at home against the 49ers, are the only other team favored by more than a touchdown.
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